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article imageTaksim Square protester says Turkey's future is uncertain Special

By Cate Kustanczy     Jun 19, 2013 in World
Brian Felsen took part in recent protests in Istanbul, Turkey. The president of CD Baby, regularly visits the country and even lived there for two years. He says via email it's a delicate moment for the country's future.
Brian Felsen, president of an indie music service with the tagline"The Biggest Little Online Record Store", has deep roots in the country; his wife is Turkish opera singer and writer Elif Savas Felsen, and the couple have lived in and made regular visits to Turkey for well over a decade. In 1999, they made a documentary about the history of Turkey's military interventions, a work praised by media and pundits alike (the noted American linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky called it " fascinating and revealing."). Felsen, a Los Angeles native, fully supports the current protests, and became involved himself through friends of his wife's; he wanted to show support for what he calls "the right to expression and assembly, which for me is about as fundamental as you can get -and I don’t care what country it’s in."
Protests in Turkey began in late May and were focused around the proposed redevelopment of Gezi Park, located in Taksim Square, in the Turkish city. Since then, the civil unrest has spread across the country, expressing a growing discontent with the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and what many view as his increasingly authoritarian stance.
In mid-June, the Turkish government attempted to clear Taksim Square with a strong police presence, resulting in violent clashes and numerous injuries. A number of organizations and officials criticized the government's actions, including French EU affairs minister Thierry Repentin, who said in a statement that "(n)o democracy can be built on the repression of people who try to express themselves in the street. The right to protest, to oppose the government, must be respected." So far, five people have been killed and thousands have been injured.
A silent, standing protest has taken place in Taksim Square recently, but there are suggestions the demonstrations may be coming to an end. The New York Times reported earlier this week that Turkey's deputy prime minister, Bulent Arincis, hinted the country's army may be used to quell current dissent—a sign, as the article states, of "officials' hardening stance against a nearly three-week-old protest movement." Such a decision would be fraught with historical and political implications, as Turkey has seen three military coups over the past five decades. Erdogan has largely attenuated the military's power over the past decade he's been in power, but many citizens and observers alike argue it's been at the cost of a real and functioning democracy.
Photographed at the protest in Istanbul June 7th  2013. The man on the left is  according to Felsen ...
Photographed at the protest in Istanbul June 7th, 2013. The man on the left is, according to Felsen, a supporter of Ataturk (considered by many to be the founder of modern Turkey); the boy on the right is with the country's worker's union.
Brian Felsen
Like many in Taksim Square, Felsen endured gassing by police forces, suffering physically in the aftermath; he tweeted on June 11th, "Direct gas hit. Incredibly debilitating & disorienting. Guy next to me shot w canister, bloody mess. Thousands of cops circling." But as he wrote in a feature at Boing Boing posted in mid-June, "the crazy thing is that even after all that, I've become addicted to going to Gezi Park. Maybe it's the sense of community and purpose there - with free food, cigarettes, music, accommodations, books, education, and healthcare."
Felsen took a few moments in his busy schedule -between running CD Baby and its literary counterpart (Book Baby), as well as supporting his friends in Taksim Square and uploading photos of his experiences to Facebook -to offer a few thoughts on his experiences and where he thinks Turkey may be headed.
What are the most striking things you’ve seen and heard?
I was most surprised by (the protestors') calm and determination, and lack of violence and anger. During some of the worst of the police attacks, the people occupying Gezi Park (watching Taksim Square below) were playing the drums and samba music and dancing. After the last burst of the gas, everybody was gagging and vomiting and it was horrible. (But) the Turks were still cheering and clapping and applauding the fact that they held their ground. It was like they were saying, "Gas us. Exterminate us. We are not fucking moving."
 I’m impressed that people are protesting from all walks of life   says Felsen   and engaging in g...
"I’m impressed that people are protesting from all walks of life," says Felsen, "and engaging in genuine, protracted conversation and interaction, rather than the small, unrepresentative group of looters and thugs, as Erdogan characterized them. The "capulcus" came from all classes, ages, political parties, and sexual orientations."
Brian Felsen
What do most of the protesters seem to want?
More democracy. Some of the protesters come with their own agendas – pro-Ataturk, pro-Kurdish, pro-vegan, and so on –but all want the ability to assemble and express themselves, which is being denied. They also want the government to stay out of their private lives, and Erdogan has increasingly pushed a social agenda, like trying to ban alcohol and making statements on how many children to have.
Felsen says he hasn t seen very many Erdogan supporters.  (The) restaurants  hotels  and mosques hav...
Felsen says he hasn't seen very many Erdogan supporters. "(The) restaurants, hotels, and mosques have been providing shelter and aid; even taxi drivers and minibus drivers were supportive to the "capulcu" (Turkish slang for raiders or marauders) -they carry (them) to and from the protests."
Brian Felsen
Prime Minister Erdogan has won three elections in a row, and made the country stronger economically while increasing its role on the world stage; he's confident he has at least 50% of the country behind him, and feels he knows the country better than the protesters. What do you make of that?
Erdogan has done some good things for Turkey, and I’m not anti-Erdogan or anti-government [... but] he seems increasingly to take a "majority rules" approach to government. In a democracy, winning an election doesn’t give you the moral prerogative to terrorize a minority.
What’s your feeling about the way the press has dealt with the protests? Many media have expressed their frustration with the AKP's increasing censorship over the last few years.
Erdogan successfully tamed the press by prosecuting or harassing the heck out of them with unrelated fines (for tax evasion or licensing, for instance) and shutdowns whenever they displeased him. For the first five days, CNN-Turk was showing documentaries on penguins. But the protests grew nationwide, and the social media reports of it were so widespread, that the media began to report.
What do you think will defuse all this?
Erdogan’s statements (and actions) are anything but conciliatory -in fact, he’s moving to censor Facebook and Twitter, and to grant more tools and rights to police to make arrests. All of that is how he wrested control of the military –by arresting 15% of the top generals and admirals. So if stamping out the fire in this manner is “defusing,” he may have real success.
 For better and worse  the military is no longer a balance for the government’s internal affairs  ...
"For better and worse, the military is no longer a balance for the government’s internal affairs," says Brian Felsen, "and the current trends in Turkey, towards encroachments on privacy and curtailing expression and assembly, may continue unabated for a time. But Turkey’s a fascinating place, and the only constant is change – so, perhaps, this too shall pass."
Brian Felsen
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